Are there some things you’d like to change in the new year, but you’ve become wary of setting new year’s resolutions because you’re tired of letting yourself down?

Have you set new year’s resolutions in the past, only to see your fast start dwindle to nothing as the weeks and months came and went?

If so, you’re not alone. There’s something about getting through the holidays that creates a desire for change in the new year. Whether too much indulgence or family stress exhausted you, or a refreshing holiday prompted a burst of enthusiasm for the new year, most people enter January pondering change. But, most of us can relate to having set ambitious goals in the past only to experience disappointment when we don’t follow through. So, is there a way to set goals for change and actually reach them? The answer is Yes! And, sometimes gentle, simple, baby-steps lead to the longest lasting changes.

Take Gentle, Simple, Baby Steps for Change

If you’re one of the few people out there who consistently set ambitious goals and follow through on detailed strategic plans to their ultimate fulfillment, this might not be the post for you. But, if you’re a perfectionist who sometimes follows through, but sometimes gets in your own way, or if you really never start because you’re intimidated by your own goals, this simpler approach could either be all you need, or it could be a catalyst for deeper commitment to change.

Before Asking the Two Questions, Get Prepared for Clarity

Before we dive into the two questions to create change, first make sure you’re feeling relaxed, calm, and in touch with what you want. How? Take a few of the following steps prior to sitting down with pencil and paper. You don’t have to do all of these. Just pick the ones that will get you into a peaceful frame of mind.

  • Spend three or four minutes taking some deep, rhythmic breaths using your diaphragm muscle to gently exhale all the way before you inhale deeply through your nose. Put your hand on your abdomen and feel the rise and fall of your breath. This calms the nervous system and enhances your creativity and decision-making ability. With each breath, gently feel your core expanding, your tummy relaxing, and let yourself do a few gentle neck rolls or stretches.
  • Go out for a walk or run, breathe rhythmically, and get some fresh air outside.
  • Take a hot shower or bath, or wrap yourself in your favorite warm blanket so that your muscles relax and you feel comforted and at ease.
  • Take some time to quit beating up on yourself if you have been, and let go of all the things you believe you “should” do, so that you can get in touch with what you really long to do. (I don’t mean letting go of your responsibilities or values, but creating the mental space to believe that you might just be able to get more of what you want in life without sacrificing your values or throwing anyone else under the bus.)

Ask Yourself Two Questions to Create Change in the New Year

OK, now that you have relaxed a bit, let go of some tension, and prepared your mind to think about your values and your longings, you’re ready to ask yourself two simple questions. Write down the answers, and spend as much or as little time as you like. You can come back to this any time!

  • What are three things I want more of?
  • What are three things I want less of?

Yep, those are the questions, and they are more powerful than you might think. Of course you don’t have to narrow it down to three of each right away. Brainstorm all the things you want more of and less of.

Want more free time? More fun? More healthfulness? More physical stamina? More social connection? More education? More adventure? More quiet or prayer time? More time outdoors? More quality time with loved ones? What else?

Want less hectic days? Less arguing at home? Less distraction from life goals? Less physical tension? Less TV or gaming time? Less anxiety or beating up on yourself? Less noise? What else?

Next, Brainstorm Ways to Make It Happen for a List of Daily—or Weekly— Action Items

When you frame what you want in terms of having more—or less—of something, you stop having to think in terms of absolutes. You can navigate a spectrum of change rather than an all-or-nothing approach that leads to failure and disappointment. Take each thing you want more or less of, and create a list of ways big and small to make it so.

For example, if you want more time outside, the list might include something simple, like going outside for five minutes before bed time to stare at the stars instead of checking your texts or emails one more time. It might include taking a fifteen minute walk at lunch instead of staring at a screen while you eat. Or, it might be researching five new hikes you want to take this year and carving out a calendar date for one each month, April to August. The idea is to create a range of items that take from five minutes to as long as it takes. This means you’ll always have a viable choice, no matter how hectic your day becomes.

Build a Track Record of Success: Check Your List Every Day and Pick Just One!

Now, keep your list of action items somewhere you’ll see it every day, and do at least one item every day from the list. Yep, just one. Now you can see why your list includes things that take five minutes, and things that could take hours. You’ll have some days when you just can’t face another big task. On those days, pick a simple five minute item. On the days when you have a little more ambition or time, pick something that will take more time or commitment.

By ticking off something from your list every day, no matter how small, you’ll keep taking baby steps towards the change you want to make. And, in the process, you’ll build a track record of success with yourself. That’s the real key to following through on your bigger dreams and goals: believing that you’ll really do them.

Little by little, you will weed things out of your life that don’t get you what you want, and you will add things that make you feel better. As you do the little things and feel good about them, you’ll gain momentum and find that you really can make more changes than you might imagine right now.

So, what do you want more of? What do you want less of? Go after the quality of life you want, one baby step at a time.

Learn more about changes I’ve made in my own life, and why I’m passionate about helping others change, too.